Exclusive: Washington Post editors on their new travel initiative, By The Way
We spoke with Amanda Finnegan and Emilio Garcia-Ruiz from The Washington Post about By The Way, a new travel product the Post is launching on June 18. Finnegan is By The Way’s editor, and Garcia-Ruiz is the Post’s managing editor of digital.
Finnegan and Garcia-Ruiz told us how the Post developed By The Way with users in mind to support its subscription-based business model. The Post hopes By The Way will help attract new, younger audiences and retain current subscribers by diversifying its content offerings.
The Idea: Can you tell us about the new travel initiative?
Amanda Finnegan: It’s called By the Way, and it’s a digital destination that will live within Washingtonpost.com. We created it as a place for travelers who really want an immersive experience and to feel like a local in some of the most popular destinations. So we tapped journalists in 50 cities around the world to write guides on their cities that will include their favorite neighborhoods for people to stay in, places to eat, and things to do.
We also have two full time staff writers who will be writing on travel news and trends, and then also a reporter who will be writing general travel advice, including how-tos and tips that we think readers could use on any journey.
The Idea: Can you tell us about the business opportunity that the Post saw with this new travel initiative?
Emilio Garcia-Ruiz: We have an emerging news product team whose job it is to scout out opportunities, and they look for areas of coverage where we see a combination of audience opportunity and monetization. About this time last year, they began looking at potential products.
We looked at about a dozen things, including Amanda’s idea that travel was changing and that some of the things that she was hearing from her friends were different from what they were getting from traditional travel content — this notion that most of the popular tourist places were really, really crowded, and they really wanted more of an authentic experience.
It was one of a bunch of things we studied, and it tested off the charts — it was the strongest, most successful test we’ve ever run for a new content idea.
Our business model now has shifted a bit. We are very lucky that we have a strong subscriber base to serve, and as you’re looking at serving a subscriber base, your goal shifts to both serving those subscribers, but also continuing to get scale, and we test everything on that principle.
When we tested this, it did well in both categories. So what we thought was a coverage area that would do really well with younger people actually tested really well with older folks, many of whom were subscribers.
We realized we have to diversify our offerings to our readers, the news cycle right now has been very dependent on one or two subjects, but that is not always going to be the case, and we have to prepare for the time when either the audience loses interest in those really popular coverage areas or the moment changes, and those areas are no longer in the news.
Travel is a really crowded space, and we have to be really careful that we’re distinct and bring value to it, and we think that comes through the Post’s journalism. When you search on a travel destination, there are literally dozens and dozens of different publishers you can go to get different information. We want people to come to us because we offer something really unique and special.
The Idea: Where is this initiative going to live?
Finnegan: It’ll live within WashingtonPost.com, but we also will have ByTheWay.com, which will feature all of this. It will be a destination similar to Voraciously [the Post’s food brand that launched last year]; it’ll have a different look and feel than our traditional news stories. It will be highly visual, heavily designed, we will have a weekly newsletter that will come out on Thursday afternoons, and then we will also have Instagram [@ByTheWay] because travel is just a natural fit on Instagram.
Garcia-Ruiz: Since Jeff [Bezos] purchased us, we have been a multi-platform news operation — that wasn’t the case before he bought us, by the way — but after he bought us, we really were putting our journalism in front of readers, where the reader is looking for information.
Because of that philosophy, we look at all the different platforms that are out there, and we try to figure out what of our content fits best where. So in the case of travel, it was kind of a no-brainer that Instagram would be the place to go, because you want something that is very visual and appealing to the eye.
But we want to do [Instagram] differently — we don’t want it to be about all the different ways you could take a picture around the Eiffel Tower, we wanted to give people an opportunity to take pictures of places that are different from what others are putting on their feeds. So if you follow By the Way, you should go to places where you might not find, you know, 10,000 other people taking selfies.
The Idea: Can you tell us a bit more about the development process behind the initiative? For example, how you decided on certain approaches?
Finnegan: This is an idea that I started pitching to the Post in March 2018, and the concept developed from there. We really looked at how people are traveling today — especially younger travelers, like millennial travelers — but we think this concept really resonates with all sorts of travelers.
We knew that people are really looking to feel connected to a place and its people and want to feel like they’re immersed in a city or a culture. That’s why we really wanted to tap locals to create guides on their cities, because we think locals are the people who know their hometowns best.
We wanted to feel connected to these people personally, so that’s why we decided to give some details and information about who this person is that’s showing you around their city.
We also really wanted to focus on off-the-beaten-path places in these guides. We think that people know how to find the major sites, like the Louvre or the Washington Monument, and we really wanted to focus on places that locals would bring their friends to, places that they really love.
The Idea: Why travel? What did your team see as the editorial opportunity?
Finnegan: Travel feels like something we all do, and is a connection between us all, so it felt like a good fit for the Post, and also what our readers are looking for.
We really see this as an expansion of our existing travel coverage, but when we started to develop this concept and do some research and some polling with our readers, it was a concept that polled incredibly high with our readers. It polled the highest of any new concept they’ve ever polled readers on before. So it just really felt like a no brainer for us to do.
I think By The Way is really going to fill a hole in the travel space right now. Travel content in a lot of places has gotten really aspirational — we definitely see that on Instagram with influencers and photos of over-water bungalows — and we really wanted to give people something that felt accessible. In these guides, there’s a range of options in every category, as we really wanted to do something that people will actually use.
The Idea: Did it ever concern your team that readers would only view the Post as covering politics and Washington, rather than more lifestyle-type coverage?
Garcia-Ruiz: Yeah of course, that’s why broadening our offerings is so important. We did a really smart expansion of our food section last year, with Voraciously. A year before that we did The Lily, which is a platform aimed at millennial women, so yes it’s very important that we continue to let people see us, for everything we do, not just our great coverage of Washington.
The Idea: What’s the most interesting thing in media you’ve seen from an organization other than your own?
Finnegan: This is a general trend in media. People are looking for advice in their life and are really looking for news they can use and apply in their life, more than just reading stories. I think that we are seeing this trend in a lot of news organizations, people really want to know how the news affects them personally and want tangible things. I think that we’ve seen that with the steps that we’ve done, the Times with their new parenting product, and you know at Vox with explainers. I feel like people are wanting to know what’s going on that’s actually impacting them and what they can do with that, and I feel like they’re turning to the media more than ever to do that.
Garcia-Ruiz: Well it isn’t really from another news organization, but for someone who has been completely wrong about virtual reality for the last half dozen years, the arrival of the Oculus Quest is really exciting. This might be the device that actually gets a little bit more mainstream attention, and allows us to put our stories on it in a way that will overcome some of the obstacles of the previous virtual reality devices. But that’s what I’m most excited about. It’s no wires, you’re not tethered to a giant computer anymore, it’s really different.